Women’s voices are underrepresented in politics and strategic decision making, meaning that issues disproportionately affecting women require more advocacy, more attention and more awareness raising.

Around the world, women are routinely and systematically denied equal rights to access, use, inherit, control and own land. This means that women and their children also miss out on the vast advantages that come with property rights, putting their health, safety, economic security and political rights in jeopardy. Therefore, Solid Ground, Habitat for Humanity’s global advocacy campaign, has designated gender equality in land and property rights as one of its four pillars.

The Solid Ground campaign is working to ensure gender and women’s issues are systematically incorporated into land related policies including implementation and enforcement of gender sensitive policies and laws, female representation in governance bodies, and national laws recognizing individual and collective rights of women regarding land ownership and property right. Governments across the globe are responsible to educate citizens on their rights and promote skills development for women and vulnerable groups. Above all, men and women should be represented equally in formal documentation regarding land ownership and land tenure.

Benefits of land access and land ownership for women include improved feelings of safety and impacts through better economic opportunities, and social and political empowerment. Improved well-being for women and their families are proven benefits of female land ownership, including healthier, better educated children and a reduction in household poverty. Secure property rights also give women an avenue to wealth savings through access to credit with land and/or housing as collateral, leading to more opportunities for women to invest in and improve their homes and businesses. Women with secure property rights are more empowered to participate in community-level organizations, making those institutions more likely to respond to women’s needs. In general, when women are aware of their rights, they are more equipped to undertake leadership positions at household, community and society levels.

However, women around the world continue to be excluded from the direct benefits of land ownership due to discriminatory regulations linked to land distribution, titling, and inheritance laws. Written laws often fall short of adequately protecting women’s tenure rights and, in some countries, national laws explicitly discriminate against women. Habitat for Humanity is working to improve women’s access to land through the Solid Ground campaign, most notably through efforts in Bolivia, Zambia and Lesotho. 

In 2010, Habitat for Humanity Bolivia created the School of Women Leaders for Secure Tenure to provide the opportunity for women to learn how to improve their living conditions, rights, and laws to address their ability to attain their land and housing rights upon marital cohabitation, widowhood, divorce, separation and inheritance of women siblings. These women leaders advocated government officials to require land registration in the name of both spouses, enabling a legislative change benefitting 1.8 million women in Bolivia who now have the right to have their names listed on property deeds and were previously excluded from land rights, where patrimonial violence is most likely to happen. The project generated data, and land research while empowering women in the use of technology (GPS) to collect data, land information, participatory community mapping and inventory uploading in a Platform for Territorial Information Management approach that is scaling up in LAC.

Other countries legally protect women’s right to land but do not provide effective land implementation systems, leaving ambiguities and contradictions that undermine a women’s ability to exercise her land rights. Since engaging in housing and land policies, Habitat for Humanity Zambia have promoted the need for a land titling system, advised the local government and developed the new land title issuance program based on the community participatory and evidence-based approach. Through the new land title issuance program 3,000 land record cards were issued, providing secure tenure for 15,600 people across Zambia.

Increasing women’s rights to land also means strengthening laws and rights for women to inherit and bequeath land, as 36 countries do not grant widows the same inheritance rights as widowers and 39 countries prevent daughters from inheriting the same proportion of assets as sons according to a 2018 World Bank study of 189 surveyed countries. In Lesotho, a lack of inclusive and gender-sensitive laws leave women and children at greater risk due to disinheritance, property grabbing and evictions. Habitat for Humanity Lesotho is working to include inheritance rights alongside inclusive, gender-sensitive laws within all discussion around land laws. Gender disaggregated data is important to inform polices and projects, as well as, gendered evaluations on the impact of gender consideration in policies and tools.

Finally, gender inequality affects not only women but their children, relatives, communities and governments. Consequently, gender equality must not be seen just as a women’s issue, it must concern and engage men and women, public, private and social entities, decision makers in policy planning and land administration, businesses, and so on. In this regard, global and local multi-stakeholders’ collaboration, partnerships, and coalition-building are key under the Solid Ground campaign.

Read more about why secure land rights are a central factor in ensuring adequate, stable housing for women and their families in our gender and land issue brief.